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Find spice of life in the garden

To brighten up your garden and your meals this season, take a few tips from Krista Olsen-Rahf, who runs Mountainside Herbal Nursery with the help of her mom and kids, and the support of her husband.

Her family has been living on and farming the same land south of Hillsboro for nearly a century, and she’s been soaking up a love for herbs and plants from her mom, Judy, since she was a child.

Now, she sells her herbs and vegetable starts at local farmers markets, hoping to inspire passersby and customers to pick some up and experience the joy herbs bring.

Many herbs are low-maintenance, delicious additions to food and teas, usually pest-free, cheaper to grow than to buy in the grocery store, and perfect for aromatherapy and personal care products.

On those merits alone, herbs should be able to convert anyone who’s resisting the call from their green thumb.

New gardeners looking for something fun and easy to cultivate, seasoned growers scouring for surprising new additions and passionate cooks wanting to spice up dishes with the freshest flavors should consider growing herbs in a patch or pot this year.

Herbs in containers on the patio, deck or windowsill are convenient for plucking and tucking into beverages, dishes or homemade potpourri, but they also make wonderful additions to more traditional gardens, attracting beneficial insects.

There are so many to choose from, so try as many as possible. Grow herbs you commonly have stocked in your cabinet, and try something new to unlock culinary combinations you may have never otherwise tried.

“Touch and smell your herbs before you buy them,” Olsen-Rahf suggests. “It helps you know what you’re looking for. It brightens up food so much, and they are all so incredibly different.”

Olsen-Rahf carries the classics, like thyme and rosemary, as well as the harder to find, like patchouli, and has dedicated her career to growing “any herb that can be eaten.” It’s been hard for her to choose her favorites, but she’s narrowed it down to a few.

n Olsen-Rahf loves mint. She sells about 10 varieties of mint at every farmers market. She’s especially excited about a variety that popped up on her farm, which she believes is a cross between an apple mint and one of her favorite spearmint varieties, Kentucky Colonel. Kentucky Colonel grows well here and doesn’t get rust — a fungus commonly found on mints — as severely as other varieties, Olsen-Rahf said.

Mints prefer to be grown in partial sun with protection from afternoon summer sun. Keep soils moist. If growing mint in a pot, Olsen-Rahf recommends repotting every year. Cut the root-ball in half and plant halves in separate pots. Otherwise, mints grow so prolifically they can choke themselves to death when kept in one container. Dividing root-balls also promotes new, fresh, green growth, which is what harvesters want to use in dishes and drinks.

n Olsen-Rahf also specializes in basil. The Dolly variety is a Genovese type, so it has that classic Italian flavor, but it’s slower to bolt and tends to be prolific. She also likes Ararat basil, which is a purple-green speckled, upright-growing variety. Basil likes sun, Olsen-Rahf said, but not hot, reflective sun, so don’t plant it right by house and shed sides or by sidewalks. Basil does best in moist, but not wet, conditions. Use pumice or perlite to make sure soil is well-drained to prevent rotting roots. Olsen-Rahf recommends applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, which will encourage new, green growth. Use basil from the top down, she recommends, and take it off in sections as opposed to harvesting it leaf by leaf. This encourages the plant to leaf out instead of stressing it.

n Green and Vietnamese Shiso is another pick commonly used in Asian dishes. Shiso grows well in similar conditions to basil.

n Vietnamese coriander, of the buckwheat family, is similar in taste to cilantro, Olsen-Rahf said, but it’s lighter and more lemony. It also doesn’t flower, so it’s a tender perennial that can be moved inside to winter over.

n Another one of her favorites is the classic sage, of which she sells six varieties. Berggarten sage is more compact, so those short of space should give it a try. It needs two feet or less to grow. Sage is a Mediterranean herb that likes well-drained soil and requires minimal watering after the first year in the ground. Use sage regularly to keep it producing new leaves.

You can find Mountainside Herbal Nursery stands at various farmers markets — in Hillsboro, downtown on Saturdays and in Orenco on Sundays; in Forest Grove on Wednesdays; in Tigard on Sundays; in Sherwood on Saturdays; and at Portland’s OHSU market on Tuesdays during June.

Olsen-Rahf encourages customers to check in with her because she has new items each week, she sets aside her best products for those who order ahead. Email her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , call at 503-709-6947. Visit mountainsideherbalnursery.com for more information.




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  • 22 Aug 2014

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